Those chances aren’t infinite. Even with McPhee’s patience and owner Ted Leonsis’ goal to have a generationally great team, changes will eventually come if the Caps don’t make progress. Already Semin is gone, and left in the wake of his departure is a void of scoring that someone will need to fill.
Forget most of the hockey world looking at the Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and defending champion Los Angeles Kings as Cup picks. The internal expectation has not changed.
“I expect that we’ll be successful. How do we measure success? We want to go a long way,” said Oates, who will make his NHL head coaching debut Saturday night at the Tampa Bay Lightning. “Obviously, the goal’s a Stanley Cup. You want to win the Stanley Cup. They had some success last year, but they were still a long way away from winning the Stanley Cup. So we’ve got to improve on last year and see where it takes us.”
Ovechkin won’t make any grand proclamations about where this season will take the Caps. He has been around long enough to see the ebb and flow of Washington as a hockey town with eyes on a championship and the disappointment of falling short.
Three years ago, the dream was not just of winning a Cup but winning more than one with this group. The window appeared wide open for that.
“I think you have a window to have a dynasty,” Oates said. “But I think anybody can win any one year.”
Asked if he believed the Caps could still do it, Oates said: “Why not? You’ve got some guys that have been in the league a couple years, and they’re ready.”
For a franchise with one trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 37 seasons, though, any talk of a dynasty is premature. Ribeiro has watched the Caps the past few years and won’t entertain talk about the next few seasons.
“Every time I watch these guys, they’re top five to win the Cup, and then you get in playoffs and make it, or you go after the first round,” he said. “You have to take this year. You cannot start thinking about the next three, four years. Let’s think about this one here and trying to do something right.”
It will take until late June, after a lockout-shortened 48-game regular season and another playoff sprint, to find out if the Caps are worthy of being considered perennial title contenders.
That’s not something McPhee worries about; he loses sleep over everything else. But he’s at peace with this team keeping the Cup window open.
“Each year’s a challenge, and that’s what makes the business what it is and why we’re in it,” he said. “We like a challenge and like to see if we can solve the riddle.”